Saturday Night Live’s ratings have soared in the past year, but off the set, cast members have stumbled in movies, with films that either fizzled at the box office, drew bad reviews, or both. The 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters, starring SNL cast members Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones — plus frequent host Melissa McCarthy — fell short of expectations. And Wiig, McKinnon, Jones and former SNLer Jason Sudeikis also starred in the dreadful Masterminds that same year. Watching that movie recently on Netflix got us thinking: Just what are the best comedies starring former Saturday Night Live cast members? Within about two minutes of brainstorming with friends, we’d already determined that classics such as Eddie Murphy’s 48 Hrs. and Coming to America and Will Ferrell’s Anchorman probably wouldn’t make the cut. Neither would any movies by Chris Rock, Chris Farley or Adam Sandler. Here’s how this totally subjective list shook out in the end, in no particular order.
10. Caddyshack (1980)
Chevy Chase appeared in the debut Saturday Night Live season (1975-76) and made such an impact he left after that season to pursue a film career. He was near the peak of his Hollywood stardom when he made Caddyshack. Yet while he got top billing in this classic, most of the really memorable comedic moments belonged to other characters, especially Bill Murray (SNL member 1977-1980) as the whacky golf course groundskeeper.
9. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
We debated whether or not to put animated films on this list. Frankly, why not? Sure, the animation in Monsters, Inc., was great and the storyline was clever — but Billy Crystal’s characterization of wisecracking Mike Wazowski made this film a hit. Another Crystal hit, City Slickers, is an honorable mention here, as is the rom-com When Harry Met Sally….
8. Animal House (1978)
Would this movie have been nearly as fun, nearly as memorable without John Belushi’s comedic genius? He dominated this flick in every scene he appeared, from smashing a folk singer’s guitar and muttering a quiet “Sorry” to his rousing “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” speech.
7. Groundhog Day (1993)
This is Bill Murray at his most self-absorbed, anti-social best. And don’t forget his brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, who also appeared in the film, earned three Emmy nominations as a writer on SNL.
6. Elf (2003)
We can hear Anchorman fans screaming now — “How can you leave Will Ferrell’s modern cult classic off this list, and include Elf?” We started to include both of them. But really, Elf feels somewhat timeless, as if it will play well 30 years from now. Not so sure about Anchorman in that regard. Ferrell, who appeared on the show from 1995-2002, has appeared in more than 50 films since rising to fame on SNL.
5. Bridesmaids (2011)
Kristen Wiig not only co-wrote the screenplay, she also starred as the woman whose life falls apart when she serves as the maid of honor for her best friend (fellow SNL cast mate Maya Rudolph. Bridesmaids earned critical reviews, was a box-office smash and put Wiig on the radar as a rising star.
4. Shrek (2001)
We weren’t huge fans of Wayne’s World or Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, but we will certainly acknowledge Mike Myers’ brilliance in both films. But our personal favorite in Myers’ body of work is his characterization of Shrek in this animated classic. If you’ve dismissed it as a kid’s movie and have never seen it, find a copy and check it out.
3. The Blues Brothers (1980)
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were close friends on the SNL set, and the chemistry showed in this reprise of a skit from the show. One can thank chemistry for their success, or a higher power, as Aykroyd’s character, Elwood Blues, kept intoning, “We’re on a mission from God.”
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
In retrospect, so many of this movie’s most memorable scenes, from the ginormous marshmallow man to the sultry character played by Sigourney Weaver, involve special effects or other performers. And that maddening theme song will get stuck in your head all day! But the wisecracking one-liners tossed out by Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray drive the film from start to finish.
1. Christmas Vacation (1989)
When this movie first hit theaters years ago, no one could have predicted it would become a holiday classic. Chevy Chase’s hapless Clark Griswold plays a great straight man as his holiday season disintegrates around him. Yet some of the most memorable scenes in the movie come from Cousin Eddie, played by Randy Quaid, who appeared on SNL for one season (1985-86). And Julia Louis-Dreyfus (SNL cast member from 1982-85) shines in her few scenes, as does Brian Doyle-Murray as Griswold’s clueless boss.
One More: Trading Places (1983)
Dan Aykroyd is wonderfully pathetic as a rich financial services worker who loses it all as part of a bet between two cruel financial barons, while Eddie Murphy goes from street beggar to the high life as part of the same bet.
Honorable Mention: Tropic Thunder (2008)
It’s ironic Tropic Thunder would end up on a list of this nature. The two SNL graduates in this film, Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., were barely afterthoughts in their brief stints on the show. Stiller appeared as a cast member for a few shows in 1989. Downey bombed in his one year (1985-86) on the show; a Rolling Stone ranking of all 145 cast members through 2015 ranked Downey last. But they’re both at the top of their game in this satire of a movie crew producing a Vietnam War movie.
(Slideshow and display photo of Bill Murray in Caddyshack, © Orion Pictures Co.)